Controlling the Writing on the Wall

Jan Kott, translated by M. Rosenzweig

Czarna Ksiega Cenzury PRL (The Black Book of Polish Censorship) Volume I

Aneks (61 Dorset Road, London W548Y England), 247 pp., $8.50

The term “Germany” is not to be used in reference to the present state of the GDR, the FRG or West Berlin; when mentioning the capital of GDR use the term “Berlin” in distinguishing it from West Berlin.

All materials (passing references, photographs, etc.) on the subject of Iran, past or present, the Shah, his family and persons connected with the Shah must be brought to the attention of the Bureau.

All total figures re road accidents, fires and drownings are to be unconditionally eliminated from the press, radio, and TV; overly alarmist forms of publications on these subjects should be toned down.

These are three randomly chosen secret instructions from the Book of Indexes and Guidelines of the Polish bureau of censorship whose official name is GUKPPiW. These seven letters stand for Central Bureau for Control of Press, Publications and Performances. The bureau is located on Mouse Street in Warsaw.

As in Kafka there is both the Bureau and the Book. The Book, Poland’s equivalent of the Russian List which Lifshitz-Losev recently wrote about in The New York Review (June 29, 1978), has been among the most diligently guarded state secrets in countries of the Soviet bloc. A censor from the bureau, Tomasz Strzyzewski, left Poland for Sweden in the spring of 1977, taking a copy of the Book with him. After obtaining political asylum, he passed it on to the Committee for Social Self-Defense / KOR (Workers Defense Committee), the representatives of the Polish dissident movement. It was published in London under the title Czarna Ksiega Cenzury PRL (The Black Book of Polish Censorship) by the émigré publishing house Aneks.

So far we’ve known censorship from the outside, as its victims, from its effects. The Black Book for the first time shows censorship in totalitarian countries as a complete system for the transformation of reality into “unreality.” The most frightening thing about it is its perverse modernity. It’s as if censorship as a system brings to its logical conclusions the post-structuralist principle that reality is only a message, which can be transformed at will according to definite rules. Censorship is the most consistent realization of McLuhan’s information theories—for censorship information is not a true or false image of reality but the sole reality.

According to the orders issued to Polish censors the “Polish-German border” does not exist; there is only the “Oder-Neisse border” or, in an extreme case, the “Polish-GDR border.” In any case there’s nothing strange about this as “one is not to allow publication of any materials on the subject of the approaching twentieth anniversary of the end of the state of war with Germany.” In the semantics of this censorship North Korea does not exist, only the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; however, South Korea does exist, even if the censors prefer “the Seoul regime” or “the puppet government of South Korea.” Of course there is no border between these two Koreas and even the expression “the line of the…

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